How to Talk About the Feel of a Game’s Controls

When I play Project M I often think “these controls feel so good”. But how do I describe any game’s controls being good without using buzzwords like precise, tight, feels right etc?
Note that by controls I’m not only talking about buttons, but what makes what’s happening on-screen fun to see and satisfying to play. In PM/Melee’s case, for example, how the high gravity and the crunchy (here goes another one) sound effects make pummeling an opponent with repeated Marth’s utilt and uair feel so goddamn good. You probably know what I’m talking about, but how do I explain stuff like that in tangible terms?

First, you could try reading Steve Swink’s Game Feel. Second, try looking up the 12 principles of animation. Third, compare and contrast with similar examples that don’t feel as good, and figure out what the actual differences between them are. Fourth, consider how animations flow into one another, where the point where you’re allowed to input is, where each animation cancels.

It’s a lot of subtle things. Someone had a story once about a friend of his who made a side scrolling game where a dude shoots fireballs. Something about the fireball throw felt lame, but nobody could put their finger on it. Then the friend made it so the fireball was spawned a bit further in front of the character, and suddenly it felt great. Hearing this, I knew on the spot that it’s because there was a greater change between the frames, so it would feel like there was more force being applied in that moment.

In PM and Melee, when you attack in the air, your bottom collision point changes, so that you will collide with the ground further up into your body. In Brawl and Smash 4, this is not the case, so collisions with the ground feel abrupt and weak. In The Animator’s Survival Kit, Richard Williams points out that you can make a collision feel more impactful by adding a frame where the character is touching the surface before the collision happens.

You gotta watch for this sort of stuff. Another guy just linked me a Bloodborne review where the guy complains that attacks in Lords of the Fallen are so slow, but honestly they can be about as long in length or startup as a dark souls attack. The issue with them is that the weapon moves at a consistent speed through the whole animation, unlike dark souls where there’s that same “merihari” that Capcom described having to teach Ninja Theory, which Americans would know as slow in and slow out or easing. Basically, the actual active swing time of attacks in dark souls is really short, where in lords of the fallen it’s really long, even though the full animation is the same length overall.

Sound effects are not my forte, I’m generally a bit weaker when it comes to sound, but listen to what they actually are, compare with worse alternatives, look up some words people use to describe sound, like high pitched or low, tinny or bassy, etc. Do your best.

Though identifying this stuff is probably harder if you’re not an animator, because it’s harder to look for it if you don’t know what to look for.

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